Back in August I'd intended to write a post before I went away, but I ran out of time. Early that month I finally made up my mind to book a flight to Biarritz, the first part of getting to St. Jean Pied de Port in France. I'd decided to start to walk the Camino Frances, also known as The Way of St. James or the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrim path. I'd cleared September of art events and teaching, bought a guide book and talked to a friend who'd done it in 2 stages but didn't read much about it; wanting to experience it for myself. Louise, Barney and William took me to the airport and it was sad saying goodbye. I remember thinking what on earth am I doing? Can I manage the walking? I was full of doubts and apprehension but I knew I needed to get away, have a big adventure and it certainly was!
I was walking as a pilgrim, just me and my rucksack, on my own to give thanks for my son's health and for my own. My Mum died at 66 and I started the walk at the same age; I feel so lucky to be fit and healthy; I've missed her so much throughout my life and the walk was partly in her memory.
St. Jean was a delightful place and together with some other pilgrims we found a bed for the night and set off early the next morning.
The first day was one of the toughest, 25.1 km and climbing from 200m to 1,450m into the Pyrenees. Frequent stops to admire the view and catch my breath were needed! The rewards were the lovely cafe at Orrison, the hill ponies running free, the flocks of sheep, the popup roadside cafe (a van) high up in the mountains and interesting people. It was a joy to be walking in the beautiful landscape even though the wind threatened to blow me away! I was glad to be weighted down by my rucksack!
Reaching Roncesvalles (valley of thorns) and booking a bed in the recently renovated albergue was a great feeling and the substantial, cheap pilgrim supper that evening was very welcome. First day completed and I did think that hopefully barring accidents I would be able to complete the whole walk, but never having done anything as long as this or as mad it all felt unknown.
Our first pilgrim supper with Co from Holland, Felicitas from Germany and Barry from Cornwall.
A reminder of the distance ahead!
I've been back for over a month now and am still assimilating the effects of the wonderful journey I had. Each day brought new experiences, places, foods, people; there were highs and lows and it's hard to describe how it's affected me. It was a spiritual journey I'm so glad I took, deeply moving, very tough physically and emotionally but enriching.
There will be more about it in future posts, but I did make it to Santiago and then walked on to Finisterre on the coast, a total we worked out of 850km. I'd allowed 6 weeks which was just right, I arrived back home on October 7th. The homecoming has also been deeply emotional, tears of joy seeing my family and friends again. It has taken time to really arrive home after 6 weeks of total freedom. I've just started to read the journal I kept and it brings it back to life so vividly. I remember the camaraderie of the Camino, the interesting people I met from all over the world, the wonderful scenery, the kindness of the Spanish people and other pilgrims. The walking became my meditation, I loved it.
Sheer joy and exhilaration!